As most of you know I spent the last 16 weeks in very strict training in an attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I logged over 500 miles during that time in the heat and humidity of Arkansas, Texas, Florida and even Mexico on a mission trip, often getting up hours earlier than normal to get my runs in. Dozens of times I was up as early as 4:15am even though I am most certainly not a “morning person” as you all know.
Heading into Chicago last weekend I was ready. All of my training runs told me so. I did 10 sets of Yasso 800’s at 3:05. Running a half marathon under 1:30 was no problem. All of my speedwork runs, tempo runs and “fast finish” runs were right on schedule. Every predictor workout showed I could do a 3:05-3:10 marathon … well below the 3:20 that I needed to qualify. When I got to Chicago, I was ready to run the race of my life.
The day before the marathon my wife Paula caught a stomach virus. Vomiting, diarrhea, cramps – you know the drill. While I was concerned about her and did everything she needed me to do to keep her comfortable, I keep thinking “Oh please don’t let me get it!”
When I awoke the next morning my pre-race breakfast didn’t sit very well with me. By the time I entered the starting corral my stomach was churning. I knew right then I was in trouble but tried to remain positive. The race started and we were off. The motion of the run began to upset my stomach. While I was right on pace through the 15K mark, I was feeling the early effects of the virus. By mile 10, it hit me. I wanted to quit right then and there. I’ve never dropped out of a race in my life, but I knew I couldn’t go another 16 miles. It just wasn’t possible.
My pace started slowing and I knew the Boston Marathon would have to wait. Water started making me sicker. At mile 12 I could no longer take in any liquids or food. Running the final 14.2 miles of a marathon without fluid or food was unadvisable. Stupid. Dehydration can do terrible things to you.
But I wouldn’t quit. I had raised over $2,000 for the orphans in Mexico that I had visited earlier in the summer. I pledged to run hard for them and even if that meant suffering, I’d make that sacrifice. If God would help me keep going, I was going to reach that finish line. For them. For Him.
At around mile 16 I started feeling the twinges of cramps coming on. I hadn’t experienced a single cramp during my entire training program, but with no water, Gatorade or food, my electrolytes were depleted. Cramps were inevitable. So was the headache. Things were deteriorating fast at this point. One second I was running okay, the next second my leg buckled as a stabbing pain ripped through a muscle. The cramps weren’t a respecter of muscles either. They allowed all of them to get in on the action – hamstring, quad, calf … everyone was invited to the party.
As I watched runner after runner pass me by, I got more discouraged. My pace continued to slow and my goal got farther and farther away. In addition to the physical pain, I hurt emotionally. I felt like a failure. Sixteen weeks of preparation seemed like wasted time. My pride took a hit – I knew many of my friends, family and fellow runners were tracking my progress, watching to see if I could indeed qualify for Boston. I felt like a loser. It became mentally difficult to continue.
When I managed to get to mile 23 I collapsed into a grassy area at the side of the road with uncontrollable cramping. I was cramping – literally – from my left hip all the way to my left ankle. I rolled on the ground helpless to do anything about what was happening to me. A member of the medical team saw me and came rushing over to my aid. She was a Godsend. Within a minute she had me back on my feet. I started “shuffling” on down the road.
Each mile seemed to stretch on farther than the last. With two miles to go I honestly didn’t think I could make it. It wasn’t a matter of me not wanting to quit at this point, it was a matter of me not physically being able to continue. Somehow the grace of God was with me and I inched forward. When I reached the “one mile to go” sign it seemed like I was at the gates of heaven. Someone saw my shirt (It read “Finish Line Faith”) and yelled at me, “We’ve got faith for you brother!”
If the “one mile to go” sign was the gates of heaven, then certainly the Finish Line was heaven itself. When I entered the shoot with about 0.2 miles to go the tears started filling my eyes. Thousands of people were cheering for all of us who were about to finish. I ran across the finish, got my medal and collapsed into my wife’s arms – crying like a baby. “I failed sweetie. I failed.”
That’s how I saw it. I didn’t qualify for Boston. I didn’t reach my goal. I didn’t live up to the expectations of myself, my friends, my family and my fellow runners. I didn’t do it.
I got back to the hotel room extremely disappointed. More than disappointed, I was discouraged. Even depressed. I was a LOSER in all caps. Thank God for good people around me. My wife, my friends, my family, my fellow runners quickly put things into perspective. Whether it was through phone calls, texts, emails or Facebook posts, they reminded me that there was one more thing I didn’t do…
I didn’t quit.
Who else can say they ran a marathon with a stomach virus? How many fellow finishers ran the last 14 miles without their needed water or food? Despite the odds, I managed a very respectable 4:11 time, placing ahead of almost 35,000 of the 45,000 runners. Not that any of that matters – it just reinforces the idea that this race wasn’t the colossal failure that I thought it was. I wasn’t the loser that I thought I was.
As I reflected on this weekend’s experience there are three life lessons that I think we can all stand to be reminded of…
1. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE. I’m not sure there’s a substitute for supportive, encouraging people in your life. You’re gonna get sick. You’re gonna get discouraged. You’re gonna fall down. You’re gonna come up short. But when you’ve got friends and family in your life who love you, who are cheering for you, who are proud of you no matter what, that makes the difference. Life may slap us around with negative things, but loved ones who speak uplifting words to us before, during and after our greatest challenges are priceless treasures. I thank my God for my wife Paula, my son Jacob and COUNTLESS friends and family members who have “got my back” when I’m too beaten to stand up for myself.
2. FOCUS ON THE “DID” INSTEAD OF THE “DID NOT”. Your perspective shapes many things including your attitude, mood, mindset and even future action. There really is something to the whole “glass half empty or glass half full” analogy. We can choose to focus on what we did NOT do or what we do NOT have and be discouraged because things aren’t how we’d like them to be. Or we can choose to focus on what we DID do and what we DO have and realize just how blessed we really are.
3. NEVER GIVE UP. Things may not go the way you plan, but don’t use that as an excuse to quit. There are things that are completely out of our control, but that doesn’t mean we have to let those things defeat us. When the race of life knocks you down with cramps, get back up and keep moving forward. Against all odds you can reach the finish line. Run when you can. Walk when you can’t. Lean on someone for a while. Crawl if you must, but don’t quit. Don’t you ever quit.
There are a lot of people that I need to thank for their encouragement, support and love. You know who you are. And I say to you now, “Thank you – you make my life the best race ever!”
Mostly, I am thankful to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I would have no life – no eternal life – without Him.
At the close of the Chicago Marathon I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses that I carry through the race of life. It’s the one that is emblazoned on my running shirt that the lady responded to with one mile to go:
“I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
He who does that can only be called a winner. Keep running that next mile!
To God be the glory, great things He has done.